Movie Prop Maker Gives 'Props' to Heart Doctors

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After Francis Lebeda, 85 of Cedar Rapids, completed his military service in 1962, he sought a family doctor. At his first checkup, they discovered he had a heart murmur.

A heart murmur is an extra sound made by blood improperly flowing through the heart. It can be innocent or indicate a health problem and is monitored through routine visits with a primary care provider or cardiologist.

“Every year I went to a doctor to check up on my heart murmur,” Lebeda said. “Eventually I started having more trouble with my heart.”

Lebeda developed coronary heart disease, which means his heart struggled to deliver enough blood throughout the rest of his body. In 2015, he had open heart surgery, and in 2017, he suffered a small heart attack.

Heart Valve Repaired Without Surgery

A few years ago, Lebeda started seeing Subhi Halawa, MD, cardiologist at St. Luke’s Heart Care Clinic, to continue his cardiac care. Dr. Halawa discovered Lebeda’s mitral valve was leaking and needed to be repaired. However, due to his medical history and age, Lebeda wasn’t a candidate for open heart surgery.

“We knew there was a problem when Francis began complaining about shortness of breath and struggling with routine physical activity,” Dr. Halawa said. “We did a transthoracic echocardiogram (ultrasound of the heart) to see how bad the valve was leaking. It was severe.”

Dr. Halawa consulted with his colleague Wassef Karrowni, MD, St. Luke’s structural and interventional cardiologist. They ultimately decided the MitraClip was the best solution.

“Sometimes when the mitral valve doesn’t close appropriately, blood starts leaking backwards, causing a lot of symptoms,” Dr. Karrowni said. “We implanted a MitraClip device using a minimally invasive procedure through a vein in the leg. This small device pinches the edges of the mitral valve’s two leaflets, usually in the middle, and brings them together to prevent leakage of blood backward.
Typically, patients recover quickly after this procedure and discharge home the next day.”

Specialized Heart Team is Unique to St. Luke’s

St. Luke’s Heart and Vascular team introduced MitraClip to Cedar Rapids in 2021 and is the only hospital in the area performing the procedure. 

“At St. Luke’s, we are fortunate to have talented people like Dr. Karrowni who are trained in specialized procedures like the MitraClip,” Dr. Halawa said. “It is a lifesaver for those who are not candidates for open heart surgery.”

After the procedure, Lebeda felt as if he was in better shape than before. “It is unbelievable what the cardiologists at St. Luke’s did for me; I’m more energetic and I feel like a new man,” he said.

The procedure has also allowed him to return to what he loves: making movie props and fabricating other items. He runs Lebeda Engineering LLC in downtown Cedar Rapids. He made props for Martin Scorsese’s 2002 film, “The Gangs of New York,” and he worked on Steven Spielberg’s 2015 “Bridge of Spies,” as well as Michael Gracey’s 2017 “Greatest Showmen,” staring Hugh Jackman.

Lebeda said he could only work five hours at a time before his procedure. Now, he can easily work more than eight hours. His advice for people in his position is to trust what their doctors say is the best course of action.

“I left everything in the hands of St. Luke’s cardiologists,” Lebeda said. “I followed what they said. I trust them completely.”

See why St. Luke’s stands out for heart and vascular care and learn how we’re expanding our specialized services for you. To connect with a cardiology provider, call (319) 364-7101.